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08
Aaron Fussell was one of those modest World War II heroes who saved the free world, then came home and spent the rest of his life building a better world.
 
I knew him as school superintendent and a legislator. But I got to know him best much later, on the golf course. That’s where you can really get to know a person.
 
Aaron played, walked and stayed active well into his 80s. He also loved to talk politics. I enjoyed walking nine holes with him late afternoons. He pulled his clubs behind him on an ancient cart. His shots were short, but always straight down the fairway. Typically on a par four, he’d be 20 or 30 yards off the green after two shots. He’d take out an eight iron, chip the ball up to within a few feet of the cup, sink the putt, take his par and walk on to the next hole, talking every step of the way.
 
If he ran into a young person, he’d pepper them with questions: Where are you in school? What subjects do you like? How are your grades? Do you play any sports? Where are you going to college?
 
He knew everybody, and he had a connection with everybody. “I coached his daddy at Elm City.” “I hired her mother to teach at Millbrook.” “His great-uncle and I played basketball together at Atlantic Christian.”
 
The ultimate connection came one day when he introduced me to his friend Hannas, who grew up in Belgium. I shouldn’t have been surprised when Aaron added, “My unit liberated his village.”
 
He liberated a lot of people, and he touched a lot of lives. He was a great soul.

 

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07
Governor Pat (Stupid Hat) McCrory’s admonition worked! No deaths or injuries were reported from Hurricane Arthur after he went on television urging North Carolinians along the coast: “Don’t put on your stupid hat.”
 
He even mimed putting on a stupid hat. And made air quotes around “stupid hat.” It got it on the CBS Evening News.
 
“Stupid hat” is definitely trending.
 
So a tip of the Stupid Hat to Pat!
 
Now, Governor, how about an encore? How about using it again this week with the legislature? Go on TV and tell them in no uncertain terms: “It’s time to finalize a budget, and it’s no time to put on your stupid hats. In fact, it’s time you take off the stupid hats you’ve been wearing the last couple of years.”
 
Help us, Governor. You’re our only hope.

 

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04
There’s a lit stick of dynamite – and one unanswered question – being blithely passed from hand to hand in the backrooms of Raleigh: Who will the State Senators and Representatives make pay to cleanup Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds – which Duke says is going to cost $10 billion and which, Duke also says, in fairness ought to be added to its customers’ electric bills. 
 
Attorney General (and not one to look a gift horse in the mouth) Roy Cooper, who’s running for Governor, promptly disagreed, saying Duke ought to pay every penny which inspired Cooper’s Democratic allies to add an amendment to the Senate Republicans’ ‘Coal Ash Cleanup’ bill to make Duke pay. 
 
The old Bull Mooses promptly quashed the Democrats’ amendment then fell cryptically silent which oddly – given the murky waters of Senate politics – sent a crystal clear message: The Bull Mooses, after they’d just kiboshed Duke paying the $10 billion, faced a tough choice: Either tell consumers their electric bills would be going up or lay low and say nothing.
 
Silence spoke volumes.
 
Which attracted the attention of Conor (the Jessecrat) who grunted, What we have here is half-baked politicians coming up with the wrong cure for a problem.
 
Conor explained both Cooper’s and the Republicans’ solutions had more to do with politics than fixing the problem then added, The real question here is how much can Duke afford to pay?  If it has $10 billion, fine, let it pay it all.  But if Duke can only pay $1 billion then some poor soul’s got to find the backbone to tell people their electric bills are going up $9 billion.
 
Of course, even for our finest politicians, that would be just plain treacherous – imagine a Bull Moose, running for reelection, looking voters straight in the eye and saying, I voted to increase your electric bills, while at the exact same moment his opponent’s looking the exact same voters in the eye saying, Duke should pay it all.

 

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03
The Governor sent his budget over to the Senate.
 
And as Rodney Dangerfield used to say, He got no respect. It was DOA.
 
The Senate sent its budget over to the House.
 
And it got no respect either. DOA, again.
 
The House sent its budget to the Senate.
 
And met the same fate.
 
Then, just when things looked bleak, House Speaker Thom Tillis, an optimist, announced anyone who “reports there’s a big gap between the House and the Senate isn’t paying attention” and sent another, abridged, budget to the Senate.
 
He got even less respect than the Governor.
 
The old Bull Mooses declared his budget was a “gimmick” – and went home for a long weekend.

 

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03
I know that people in the Governor’s Office read this blog. So please pass this message on to Governor McCrory: Josh Ellis needs some time off.
 
Josh, the Governor’s communications director, responded rather sharply to my blog yesterday about McCrory’s new Governor’s Teacher Network (GTN). (See “McCrory's Make-up Test.”)
 
Josh’s email is below, but first some background. I’m gratified when important people in government read our blog and take time to respond in writing. Art Pope has done so a couple of times. Most always, I post the response in full, without tagging on my usual ad hominem sarcasm. (Don’t try this at home. I am a trained professional.)
 
But I can’t do that here.
 
This is Josh’s response, in full:  “Gary, I hope you’re doing well. I just read your latest post. I probably shouldn’t be surprised that a consultant is criticizing a plan that would pay teachers instead of consultants. Josh.”
 
Help me here. I have no idea what consultants have to do with GTN. I don’t know GTN from GNP. Plus, I was quoting criticism from TEACHERS. Talk to them, Josh.
 
But I feel Josh’s pain. I sat in his seat for eight years, and I’ve done the same thing more times than I care to remember. Josh spends every day caught between a hypersensitive boss and a hypercritical pack of reporters, bloggers and political opponents. Even fellow Republicans like Senator Berger & Co. go out of their way to make life miserable in the Governor’s Office.
 
Maybe Josh had been looking forward to some time off this weekend. Then comes Hurricane Arthur, and he has to go into Storm Communications Mode. All hands on deck – and to the cameras!
 
(By the way, one reader asked: “Why does Governor McCrory always tell us not to do anything ‘stupid’ during a storm? Does he think we’re stupid? And if we are stupid, would we listen?”)
 
Anyway, Josh needs a break. As do a lot of people in Raleigh.
 
So, the spirit of the holiday and of national unity, I wish Josh, Governor McCrory and all of you a Happy Fourth. I hope your plans (and ours) survive the storm. Enjoy some dogs and burgers, a cold beverage and that great American pastime of watching stuff blow up.
 
And listen to your Governor. Don’t do anything stupid.
 

 

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02
The news from Iraq was puzzling.
 
West of Baghdad, ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) was whipping our allies the al-Maliki government.
 
At the same time, next door in Syria, President Assad was bombing our enemy ISIS.
 
Meanwhile, in Washington, President Obama was asking Congress for $500 million to send guns to Syrian rebels so they could attack Assad.
 
Which was wise, the President said, since the rebels are moderates who’ll attack ISIS too.
 
Only, up until now, the President has said we shouldn’t send arms to Syria because it’s too hard to tell a moderate from an immoderate rebel and the guns might end up in the hands of the wrong people – like ISIS.

 

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02
Governor McCrory acts like a man who had a serious health scare and now vows to eat right and exercise.  His main exercise is running away from the state Senate as fast as he can.
 
Clearly, the Governor has seen the Senate’s poll numbers on education. He doesn’t want to catch that bug.
 
Too late. He’s got it all over him, and there’s no escape.
 
Believe me. I’ve been there. Governor Hunt froze teachers’ pay during the 1982 recession. Teachers didn’t forgive. Some of them even sat on their hands when he ran against Jesse Helms in 1984. And remembered it when Hunt ran again in 1992.
 
McCrory’s latest effort to get immunized is “the Governor’s Teacher Network,” which promises $10,000 bonuses to 450 teachers for creating professional development, teaching, and assessment plans for other teachers.
 
But there’s a big catch, according to one teacher expert: The plans have to be approved from on high. It’s “basically a covert way for the administration to carefully select what 'innovation' they want to see, and continue to punish the rest of experienced teachers who collaborate and innovate on a daily basis, without bonuses. He's saying ‘Yeah, here's a $10,000 bonus if you can do exactly what I want and convince your colleagues to do the same’."
 
Here are some other teachers’ reactions: “Everyone has their price….This (is an) obvious divide and conquer ploy….”
 
And: “This is not a bonus or reward. This is pay for another job added to their normal teaching duties….Teachers are already sharing their expertise at their schools….”
 
And: “Just great. We’re headed into the last quarter and McCrory wants to distract 100s if not 1000s of teachers in the next four weeks as they scramble to compete for $10,000 when they should be focusing on getting their students ready to end the year at or above grade level.”
 
And: “This is so far removed from what really improves teaching. When I was in the classroom, I learned far more from hallway conversations with experienced teachers than I ever did from planned CE programs offered by the ‘system’.”
 
And: “Are we supposed to do this before, after or during benchmark and EOG/EOC prep? Can we take a “short session” and use, oh say, a week of personal leave to accomplish this? Nope, I forgot, we can’t find subs and we can’t use personal leave. I guess we could pull this off between 11 and 3 AM – about the only time most of us sleep.”
 
And: “As a teacher, this is a slap in the face. As if we are not doing this already???This is not going to encourage collaboration among teachers. It is going to create animosity and the loss of more good teachers. I have been teaching since 1987. I will most likely retire in NC making under 50,000.”
 
The moral: You can run, Governor, but you can’t hide.

 

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01
Last year (after their big victory in the 2012 election) as soon as Republican State Senators and State Representatives got to Raleigh they went to work to cut spending and it was almost like a competition:
 
The House would announce it had cut a hundred million dollars.
 
And the Senate would top that and announce it had cut two hundred million.
 
It went on like that for months until, in the end, they’d cut more than any legislature anyone could remember but, of course, all that cutting came with a price: After they got home Republican Senators and Representatives got hammered for not giving teachers raises, for cutting the unemployment benefits, and for denying care to the poor, halt, sick and lame – Reverend William Barber even blamed them for hurting little children.
 
For awhile none of that seemed to faze legislators but a year’s a long time to listen to people saying you’ve hurt little children and the other day when I received the House Caucus newsletter (about the House’s new budget) the wind had changed. The legislator who’d sent the newsletter explained how he’d just voted to:
 
  • Raise teachers’ salaries;
  • Raise all other state employees’ salaries;
  • Give veterans in-state college tuition rates;
  • Increase Pre-K funding;
  • Hire more people to provide child welfare;
  • Hire more bureaucrats to battle coal ash;
  • Give $3 million to the Biotechnology Center;
  • Give $190 million for the Information Technology Fund;
  • And put more money for the highway fund.
 
The only cut he mentioned was a cut in ferry tolls.
 
I reckon if anyone doubts the efficiency of attacking a state legislator – they ought to read the list.

 

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01
This is one of the oldest battles in our Republic. And you ain’t seen nothing yet.
 
The U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision ignites a battle over women’s health care, which will command center stage. But it’s really just part of the long-running battle over the proper relationship between corporations and the government/the people. (See Mitt Romney: “Corporations are people, my friend.”)
 
Corporations as we think of them today didn’t exist when the Constitution was written. They appeared In the early 19th Century, according to one history, as “bridge companies, water companies, transportation companies, banks, and insurance companies…essentially public service corporations or public franchises.”
 
After the Civil War came the first trusts: oil, steel, finance, cigarettes and the like. They dominated politics and government through the Gilded Age and into the 20th Century. Then came Trust Buster Teddy Roosevelt, who characteristically had a pretty clear view on the subject:
 
“We must have complete and effective publicity of corporate affairs, so that people may know beyond peradventure whether the corporations obey the law and whether their management entitles them to the confidence of the public. It is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes; it is still more necessary that such laws should be thoroughly enforced. Corporate expenditures for political purposes, and especially such expenditures by public-service corporations, have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs”.
 
The anti-corporate wave ebbed in the Roaring Twenties, then came roaring back in the New Deal and Square Deal. From the 1950s on, corporations and big business worked their way back into the driver’s seat.
 
Now, the Supreme Court has held that corporations, like citizens, have the right to spend unlimited funds to influence elections and the right to religious views that overrule the law of the land.
 
Oy!
 
So here’s a safe prediction: The wheel will turn, as it always does in the cycles of history. There will be a turn against corporate power, especially given the growing economic gap between the top (CEOs, owners, mega-billionaires) and the rest of us.
 
Politics is like physics. For every action, there is (or will be) an equal and opposite reaction. It may start in the Democratic presidential contest next year. (Hillary Clinton, are you listening?) And it may dominate politics for decades to come.
 
But it’s coming.

 

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30
As much as I admire the Old Bull Mooses’ single-minded pertinacity, I’ve been unkind lately to the State Senate but at dinner last night Conor, who may be the last of the Jessecrats, set me straight.
 
I’d written – a couple of days ago – how the Democratic political wizards around Raleigh believe the Senate Republicans have captured the state Chamber of Commerce, turning it into a political appendage of their campaign committee, and the proof is the state and national Chambers contributing $800,000 to a couple of Republican organizations to pay for ads to defeat Democratic Supreme Court Justice Robin Hudson.
 
As soon as Conor – who has a photographic memory and a penchant for shedding light on obscure pieces of history – set down the menu last night he leaned back and said, You got it ass-backwards – or haven’t you ever heard of Stigler’s theory of ‘Regulatory Capture’?
 
I had to admit I hadn’t and grinning Conor explained how George Stigler an Economics Professor at the University of Chicago had won a Nobel Prize for his theory of Regulatory Capture – which works like this:
 
The government, with the best of intentions, sets up an agency to regulate, say, coal ash ponds and immediately the corporations who’re being regulated focus on the new agency, wining, dining, lobbying, wooing, cajoling, and making contributions to politicians to influence the new regulations.
 
At the same time, on the other side of the ledger, the average citizen (who personally has very little or no stake at all in the regulations) does nothing.
 
Time passes and all the flattering and wooing and contributing (in hopes of getting their friends appointed to the agency’s staff) bears fruit and, suddenly, instead of regulating the corporation the agency’s been captured by it.Then a worse thing happens: The agency starts passing regulations to help the corporation by giving it an edge over its competitors.
 
According to Professor Stigler it’s a problem there’s no avoiding and ‘Regulatory Capture’ is a threat every regulatory agency faces by its very nature – protecting an agency from external pressure may be a palliative but in the end, Stigler warns, no regulator at all is better than a captured one.
 
Conor began ticking off examples of regulatory capture – explaining how the Securities and Exchange Commission was set up to protect the public from Wall Street but now protects Wall Street from the public – then rolled through a list of bills the State  Senate had passed which the local Chamber of Commerce supported and said: So wouldn’t you say instead of the Senate capturing the Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber captured the Senate?

 

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Carter & Gary
 
Carter Wrenn
 
 
Gary Pearce
 
 
The Charlotte Observer says: “Carter Wrenn and Gary Pearce don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. But they both love North Carolina and know its politics inside and out.”
 
Carter is a Republican. 
Gary is a Democrat.
 
They met in 1984, during the epic U.S. Senate battle between Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt. Carter worked for Helms and Gary, for Hunt.
 
Years later, they became friends. They even worked together on some nonpolitical clients.
 
They enjoy talking about politics. So they started this blog in 2005. 
 
They’re still talking. And they invite you to join the conversation.
 
 
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